Oldie moldies that are pretty darned fascinating

The Royal Society of London is releasing free pdfs of some of its best-known papers — and we’re talking real classics. Check out their timeline which lets you scan for papers in chronological order; the oldest are a pair for 1666-1667 by Robert Boyle and Robert Hook(e), which will horrify modern audiences: they describe experiments in blood transfusions and examinations of the lungs in dogs. I would not have wanted to be a dog in 17th century London, that’s for sure.

One that is particularly interesting is this account of a new technique in preventative medicine from 1736: “An Account of Inoculation by Sir Hans Sloane, Bart. Given to Mr. Ranby, to be Published, Anno 1736. Communicated by Thomas Birch, D. D. Secret. R. S.” It describes the use of small pox vaccinations, and contains this prescient closer:


He’s using “wonderful” in an archaic sense of “strange and astonishing”. And isn’t it strange that still today we have people fighting vaccination through “dread of other diſtempers being inculcated with it, and other unreaſonable prejudices”?

My favorite paper of the bunch, and the one that ought to be required reading for biologists, is The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme”. If you haven’t read it yet, you should…maybe right after you finish browsing the collection of olde curiosities on that page.